HOULTON, Maine — The end of an era is coming for the Houlton McDonald’s restaurant, as the iconic 40-year-old building, with its distinct copper roof, has been targeted for replacement.

The Houlton Planning Board gave its unanimous approval in July to a design review application that will see the popular fast food building razed and a new, modernized eatery erected at the same location.

The restaurant will be closed for an undetermined amount of time during the demolition and construction. As of Aug. 4, no date had been set for when the project would begin.

Plans call for construction of a 4,936-square-foot restaurant, according to Eric Dubrule of Bohler Engineering based out of Southborough, Massachusetts, which is representing the McDonald’s Corp. in the application process. The redeveloped area will include new drainage for water runoff, additional landscaping, a reconfiguration of parking spaces and a slightly different site layout that includes two ordering kiosks for the drive-thru.

The exit also will be moved 18 feet to the south on U.S. Route 1/North Street. There are no plans to relocate the entrance to the restaurant.

“McDonald’s is hopeful that they can move this along as quickly as possible,” Dubrule said. “We don’t have an anticipated timeline, but everyone is very excited about the project.”

Dubrule said he has seen new restaurants erected in as few as 45 days. The roughly 45 employees who work in the Houlton store will become unemployed during the demolition and construction phase and be eligible for unemployment benefits.

“McDonald’s is widely popular here in town,” planning board member Sue Tortello said during the panel’s review of the design application on July 19. “I find it ironic that it states the building does not have any neighborhood significance. I think it does. A lot of folks will be very upset when this is closed, even for the short window of time. It is a gathering spot and a lot of people love eating there.”

The new facility will be slightly bigger than the current building, but will feature fewer seats in the dining area, due to a larger kitchen area. The restaurant currently has room for just over 100 diners, while the new plan will be closer to about 90, according to Daryl Abbotoni, who owns the Houlton location with his wife, Heidi.

McDonald’s opened its doors Dec. 16, 1975, under the ownership of Ed and Dawn Degenhardt. They started their franchise experience with a location in Millinocket in 1974, with a promise from the McDonald’s corporation that a restaurant would be opened in Houlton the following year. Ed and Dawn retired from the business in 2008, with their daughter Heidi Abbotoni and her husband taking over the franchise, which includes restaurants in Calais (added in 1980); Lincoln (1982); and Presque Isle and Caribou (purchased in 2003). The Millinocket location was sold in 2008.

While the new changes may be viewed as improvements by many, some of the items that have made the Houlton McDonald’s unique will not likely be included in the new building.

Houlton’s is one, if not the only, McDonald’s restaurant with a stone circular wood-burning fireplace in the center of the dining area. Seating is located 360 degrees around the fireplace, with many customers snuggling up to its warmth during the winter months. Several of the rocks found in the base were picked by Heidi Abbotoni when she was a child.

Due to safety code regulations, the fireplace will not be included in the new design.

Several original hand-carved pieces of artwork currently hang on the walls from when the restaurant first opened. Those pieces of art feature traditional scenes of activities from the Houlton area, including one of children picking potatoes. Interestingly, that piece of art was crafted from a photograph of the Degenhardt children working in the field.

Several members of the planning board expressed their desire to see elements from the current restaurant retained, particularly the wood carvings. Those pieces of artwork are not currently part of the building plan, according to the Abbotonis, but the owners are hoping to convince corporate officials to allow the pieces to be displayed.

“Some of the things they have in there are unique to this store and make it special,” said Nancy Ketch, Houlton’s community/economic development director. “The local people really like the artwork and fireplace. It will be too bad to lose that character.”

Jon McLaughlin, chairman of the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation, spoke in favor of the project and agreed with Ketch on the fireplace and artwork. He suggested writing a letter to McDonald’s corporate office seeking to have the items retained.

“When we did the Lincoln store, we had somewhat of a say [on decor] so that we could tailor it a bit to Lincoln,” Daryl Abbotoni said. “We would like to do the same thing here, but they [corporate] have tightened up their restrictions. We want the Houlton feel to remain. We would love to keep the [local artwork] and fireplace.”

Also, the “Ronald McDonald Room” located in the basement, which hosted countless birthday parties over the years, is not likely to be retained in the new building, also for code reasons.